Shaping braids: six strands without using six hands

Hey there, you. Yes, you. Give yourself a pat on the back because YOU make a dang good loaf of bread.

You’ve worked hard, perfected recipes and techniques, and now you’re a kitchen hero.

So, what’s next on your punch list?

How about some knock-their-socks-off presentation? How about a six-strand braid?

Ouch, that hurt. You laughed right in my face. You guffawed in my general direction. You chortled at my suggestion that you can easily make a six-strand braided bread.

Dude, that’s cold.

Well, my mama didn’t raise but one fool and it ain’t me. You CAN make a six-strand braided bread and I’m here to prove it. If you take the directions step by step and move one rope of dough at a time, you’ll have a braided loaf of beauty on the table in no time.

I took plenty of photos and labeled each one so that you can know what strand to move, where and when. Don’t be put off by the “little man” analogy. It’s not meant to be childish, but rather to give you a familiar set of references to keep you on track. Arms and legs are something we see everyday, and this technique has taught hundreds of people in our classrooms for years learn how to braid bread.

Divide your dough into six equal pieces. You can certainly weigh the pieces to make sure they’re all exactly the same, but for me eye-balling has always worked out fine. Here I’m using a nice challah dough.

To get the smoothest ropes, you need to do a little prep to each piece. Begin by flattening the piece of dough. Then take the upper edge and fold it over to the center. Seal this seam well by pressing with your fingertips.

Fold the now-top edge over the center to touch the counter. Seal this seam as well. You’ll now have a short rope with only one seam and a smooth surface all over.

The folding also builds structure into each rope, so that they’ll be well supported internally as they rise and bake.

Roll each strand as you would roll Play-doh or clay to form a rope. At some point the rope will start to shrink back.

At this time, just set that rope aside and roll another. The shrinking is the gluten strands letting you know they’re tightening up, and they need a chance to relax (literally) before you can roll them any more.

Take your time and work at rolling the strands until they’re about 14″ to 16″ long.

NOW, we’re ready to start braiding. I’ve switched the text from under the photos to right in the photos so you can see exactly what is taking place where.

Here’s the little man analogy I was talking about. Relax, and let’s go with it.

Keep in mind to always drape gently, don’t tug tightly or the braids won’t rise properly.

Looking at the man, what do you see? If you said 5 legs and one arm, you’re exactly right.

There, that’s it. Move a leg to make an arm.

Move an arm, make an arm. Move an arm, make an arm.

One of my favorite tricks for making neat ends on braids. Try it!

When the braid is complete, you can look back on it and see which parts were formed by the arms and legs. The top bumps were the arms, when they moved to the center. The side bumps are the legs, when they crossed over to the opposite side to become new arms.

Now you can raise and bake your loaf as usual. This beautiful challah went home with Andrea from the test kitchen to share with her family.

So, not sure you want to make loaf after loaf of bread to practice? Check out this great toy.  My husband David put it together for me a few years ago when I was learning braids. It’s six strands of nylon rope he purchased at the hardware store. He melted the ends to prevent fraying (yay blowtorches!) and bundled together at one end with a zip tie.

Now I can sit and braid while watching TV, listening to music or a book, and I don’t have to worry if I have to start over 10 times. The ropes aren’t going to break or rise too quickly and they won’t dry out, either.

Start off with the little man. Two arms, 4 legs.

Arm to the center, make a new arm. Opposite arm to the center, make a new arm. Check every now and then to see if you’ve stayed on track.

Even with rope, you’ll be so pleased at the lovely braid. It’s amazing how intricately the strands become woven in repetition.

Ah, it’s good to see that you’ve stopped laughing and really seem focused. I have every faith in you, and soon you’ll be braiding everything in sight.

Be sure to take lots of pictures and share with us. You can send them to me here (maryjane.robbins@kingarthurflour.com) or post them on our Facebook wall.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Deb

    MaryJane, I love your writing. I like making bread too, but your writing makes it even better. Anytime you can call someone “dude” in print, it’s a good day.

    Happy cooking!
    Thanks Deb. Hanging around teenagers, I do hear “dude” a lot, so I guess I’ve picked it up. They say “derp” a lot too, but I haven’t quite figured that one out. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  2. OMyGanache

    This looks gorgeous. Looking forward to trying it. My way of learning must be different because I couldn’t grasp the technique until I broke it down this way. After making your arms, there are four steps:
    L arm to middle position
    R leg to L arm position
    R arm to middle position
    L leg to R arm
    Repeat
    Does this sound about right?
    That is exactly right. Start with one arm and move the opposite leg to the opposite arm. Glad the lefts and rights worked out for you. Happy braiding! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. benita

    This example will make a great addition to my families Christmas baking projects. I often take things I see and read in this blog home and make them for Christmas. At Christmas time lots of my cousins get together to do baking and these blogs provide great examples and hints. I have made four stranded braids but have never done the six. Time for me to learn.
    How wonderful that we can be a part of your family time. Just think how dazzled the cousins will be when you show up with this in your bag o’ tricks. 🙂 ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Anne

    MJ, this is lovely, LOVELY! Making a six-braid loaf would be something new for me. But I am very encouraged by your detailed pictures and will give this a try very soon. Next on the shopping list, though, is the nylon rope. What a clever idea. Thanks so much for sharing all these with us. Next to hard crust loaves, Challah-type loaves are what we do most often. A good presentation matters; it always compliments good taste! Thanks again.
    You are most welcome Anne. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a new skill for life, and you’ll always be finding new ways to use braids. Enjoy! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. waikikirie

    How sweet is your DH to make that rope “toy” for you?? I think I will get my own DH to do the same for me so I can practice before diving in…xoxxo
    Tee hee, he has to make them for the doggies too, but not so many strands :). ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. "Dawn DeMeo"

    That looks gorgeous! I’ve mastered the 4-stranded braid, but now you have me wanting to give this 6-stranded version a try. And I LOVE that challah recipe anyway! I think I’ll make some while my sap is boiling down this weekend, then I can make some amazing french toast with it all.
    That sounds awesome! I adore french toast and challah just takes it to the next level. Have a great weekend, may your sap flow like Niagara Falls. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  7. AnneInWA

    I need to make bread today for sandwiches, but I was debating on whether or not to also do a brioche for french toast. You just settled it for me – challah it is. I love a good challah, warm with butter or warm with butter and fresh blackberry jam, baked praline french toast, panini, oh the list goes on and on…. I guess this means I will be making two challahs just to have enough for all of my plans! I will have one happy tummy this weekend (although the jeans won’t be to thrilled!). Thanks MJ, I always love your posts!
    Thanks Anne,
    I hear ya about the jeans. The zipper on my winter coat gave up the ghost, and I’m trying to convince myself it wasn’t from being stretched too tight. I mean, it was an 8 year old coat, right? Right!? 🙂 ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  8. "Amanda@TheChallahBlog.com"

    Those are lovely! I tend to make my 6-stranded challahs with much shorter, squatter braids because I like them taller. But those are stunning! I have many pictures on my blog (www.thechallahblog.com). Definitely going to try your smooth-rope method!
    Thanks so much for sharing Amanda, can’t wait to get over there and check out your pics! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  9. erinhibshman

    I know what I am doing this weekend! Thanks for the step by step directions. I have done the 3 strand many times, but it’s nice to change it up and s-t-r-e-t-c-h yourself every once and awhile. Have a great weekend!
    Have a great weekend yourself Erin! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  10. aiko30066

    What recipe did you use to yield enough dough to make this six-braid challah?
    Thanks.
    Hi there. I linked up to our Classic Challah recipe. The recipe will show a 4 stranded braid in the pics, but you can do a 6 strand with it as well. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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